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Faith/Spirituality Forum: Sunday Mass obligation at Orthodox Liturgy?

by Catherine Frakas 04 Sep 2001

Sunday Mass obligation at Orthodox Liturgy? QUESTION from Lucille on July 8, 2002 Is a Catholic's Sunday Mass obligation satisfied by attendance at the Sunday Liturgy in a Christian Orthodox Church? I say no, and that opinion SEEMS to be upheld in the Code of Canon Law and its paraphrasal in the Catechism. The problem is that these answers are general and the question is specific. I have received conflicting answers from people in seemingly credible and authoritative positions, because of the meaning of the word Catholic. Those who agree with me, find it very easy to accept the idea that If it's Catholic, it isn't Orhtodox, but others say the term Catholic as used in the Code, embraces Orthodox. Opinions are fine, but does anyone have a DEFINITIVE answer to this question? Thanks and God bless.
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, OLSM on July 15, 2002 Dear Lucille:
Canon Law is the definitive source.
In fact, the Canon Law we are referring to applies ONLY to the Latin Church. Canon 1 states: The canons of this Code regard only the Latin Church.
In addition, when the code refers to other Churches besides the Latin Church, that are in union with Rome, the term used sui iuris. The Orthodox Churches are NOT sui iuris Churches. To be a sui iuris church it must be in union with the Pope. The Orthodox Churches are not in union with the Pope.
Thus the Code cannot apply to the Orthodox Churches.
Catholic in canon law refers to those baptized persons who are confirmed in the Catholic Church (churches in union with the Pope). For example, Canon 11 uses the phrase, those who have been baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it. Throughout Canon Law this phrase or one similar is repeated.
As for receiving Sacraments in an Orthodox Church....
Canon 844.1 tells us that Catholics must receive the Sacraments from a Catholic minister.
Canon 844.2 tells us that a Catholic may receive the Sacraments from a non-Catholic Church that has valid Sacraments (and the Orthodox have valid Sacraments) ONLY when confusion or danger of error or indifferentism is avoided and ONLY when it is IMPOSSIBLE physically or morally to receive them from a Catholic minister.

BOTTOM LINE: Sunday Obligation for a Catholic MAY NOT BE MET in any Church that is not in union with the Pope UNLESS it is impossible to attend a Catholic Mass because there is no valid Catholic Masses in the area. Then one MAY attend a non-Catholic Church that has VALID sacraments. The Orthodox Churches have valid sacraments.
But beware, not all churches that call themselves Orthodox are actually Orthodox. You mentioned the Christian Orthodox Church. Is this a church of the Eastern Orthodox under the leasdership of one of the Eastern Patriarchs, or is it just a group of people who call themselves Orthodox.
Nevertheless, understanding that a Catholic Church is a church in union with the Pope, a Catholic is NOT to attend the Mass of a non-Catholic Church except n the most extreme circumstances and only when that non-Catholic church has valid sacraments, and only when going to a Catholic Mass is impossible.
In the United States a situation that we would have to go to an Orthodox Church because it is impossible to go to a Catholic Church is next to non-existant. There are plenty of Catholic Churches around in this country.
Where this exception might be applicable is in a place like Russia where most Churches are Orthodox and there are few Catholic Churches.
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